Book reviews: A clean sweep for spring with Macmillan Children’s Books

Tidy byEmily Gravett
Tidy byEmily Gravett
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Not content with their diverse array of colourful titles, the wise owls at Macmillan Children’s Books have invested their high-flying experience into a brilliant new imprint called Two Hoots.

And to celebrate the launch of these exceptional books, all beautifully produced and featuring a combination of established favourites and new talent, they have three crackers to wit and to woo young readers.

The spring season also sees the start of an exciting new adventure series, Swashbuckle Lil, just perfect for kids starting to read alone, an out-of-this-world odyssey with the ever-popular Frank Cottrell Boyce and a sparkling new series for all aspiring YouTubers.

Age 4 plus:

Tidy by Emily Gravett

First out of the Two Hoots tree is Tidy, a funny cautionary tale from multi-talented and much-loved author and illustrator Emily Gravett.

Animal magician Gravett’s distinctive, bold and playful illustrations bring colour and life to picture stories packed with warmth, creativity and a freewheeling sense of fun which tumbles out of every page.

This fresh and inventive rhyming woodland story is a gentle warning about the perils of being too tidy and stars Pete the badger who likes to keep the forest neat and clean… but doesn’t know when to stop.

Pete likes everything to be neat and tidy at all times. He grooms the animals, bathes the birds, polishes the rocks, sweeps the leaves and eventually uproots all the trees. But now the forest looks bare and scrappy, and the ground is flooded and muddy. The only answer is to concrete over it all to make it perfectly tidy and perfectly neat. Problem is that he can’t reach his underground home and there is no food left to eat. Will Pete realise the error of his ways and can he set things right again?

Gravett paints a wonderful panoramic setting of lush, colourful foliage to act as a startling contrast to the badger’s self-created world of concrete, darkness and grey uniformity as she delivers her message about environmental preservation with subtlety and humour.

An eye-catching, double-sided jacket, vibrant illustrations, enchanting animal characters, clever rhymes and intricate comic details make this a very special book for your own very special little ones.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Little Red by Bethan Woollvin

And here is Red Riding Hood as you have never seen her before… a bold, edgy heroine who takes a devilish delight in getting the better of evil wolves!

Debut author and illustrator Bethan Woollvin’s dark and comic retelling of the classic fairy tale stars street-wise ‘Little Red,’ a girl not scared by growling wolves and who is clever enough and sassy enough to recognise a bad disguise when she peeps through the window of her grandma’s house.

This Little Red Riding Hood is not easily fooled by the wolf’s dastardly plan, and he had better watch his back because Little Red isn’t scared. In fact, she has a plan of her own and an axe to grind. Oh, and she needs a new fur coat. Watch out big, bad wolf!

Woollvin’s entertaining new interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood has a dark and witty twist which allows the little girl to seize control of her own story and outwit her legendary foe. This anarchic retelling is brought vividly to life through Woollvin’s remarkably expressive illustrations which are restricted to a visually striking combination of black, grey, red and white.

A remarkable debut from an exceptional new talent…

(Two Hoots, hardback, £11.99)

There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

Last but certainly not least off the Two Hoots production line is a poignant and playful exploration of childhood and the natural world from the outstanding artist and author Lane Smith.

Did you ever want to waddle with a colony of penguins? Wriggle with an army of caterpillars? Or march with a troop of monkeys? Smith takes us on a colourful adventure through the natural world, following a child as he weaves through the jungle, dives under the ocean and soars into the sky. Along the way he makes friends and causes mischief with a dazzling array of creatures both large and small… but can he find a tribe of his own?

With its breathtaking illustrations, enchanting language lessons in collective nouns for the wonderful animal kingdom and moving exploration of the joys of curiosity and discovery, There Is a Tribe of Kids speaks loudly of the importance of family and belonging.

This clever, colourful, warm and inclusive book is ideal for sharing and will offer up something new to discuss and enjoy at every reading. A modern classic…

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The Gruffalo, one of the world’s most popular picture books, gets a fresh, sparkling look to charm a new generation of children.

‘A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood. A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.’ Who can forget the first lines of the brilliant, award-winning story about a clever little mouse who outwits the creatures of the deep dark wood?

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s The Gruffalo has become a bestselling phenomenon across the world, translated into over 50 languages and made into sell-out stage shows and Oscar-nominated films.

This stunning edition has a beautifully designed foiled cover featuring the artwork of illustrator Scheffler and providing an irresistible appeal for new readers and those already familiar with the classic story.

The perfect gift for Gruffalo fans old and new…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Swashbuckle Lil: The Secret Pirate by Elli Woollard and Laura Ellen Anderson

Ahoy, me hearties! It’s time to climb aboard and take to the high seas for the rip-roaring adventures of Swashbuckle Lil, an ordinary girl with an extraordinary imagination.

Both word and picture perfect, Lil’s adventures feature two high-energy, fully illustrated, rhyming stories in each book and contain everything a child needs to aid and encourage the transition from parent-led to independent reading.

Lil is no ordinary schoolgirl. While the other children are doing ordinary things, like watching TV or playing in the park, Lil is off fighting evil monsters and fishing for cod in the pond for her pirate lunch.

But being a swashbuckling pirate at school isn’t easy, especially when her teacher is always trying to get her to stop daydreaming, to be quiet and sit still. It’s not that easy for a girl pirate who lives on board a big ship with sails and has a trusty parrot called Carrot as her partner. But when evil pirate Stinkbeard tries to kidnap Lil’s teacher, it’s up to Lil to come to the rescue. And in story two, it’s sports day and there’s a very hungry croc on the loose.

Can Lil and Carrot scare Stinkbeard and his pet croc away?

Elli Woollard captures young hearts and minds with her super, snappy rhymes and Laura Ellen Anderson’s lively illustrations add charm and charisma to what looks set to be a clever and creative new series.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight by Elli Woollard and Benji Davies

And the rhyming fun continues as Elli Woollard teams up again with award-winning illustrator partner Benji Davies for a flaming good feast of hungry dragons and knobble-kneed knights.

These two children’s books talents are the creators of the ever popular picture book, The Giant of Jum, and their new pairing proves to be another winner as they bring us a funny, winsome story of an unlikely but heartwarming friendship.

In the far, far away land of Hardbottom live the scary Dragons of Dread. All the trainee young knights at Hardbottom’s Academy know never to venture anywhere near in case they are nibbled by dragons. But one day a kind young schoolboy called James, who is minding his own business duck-spotting by the Great Lake, helps a strange-looking bird who falls from the sky.

Duckie is unlike any bird James has seen before but that doesn’t matter when first aid is required and rumbling tummies need to be fed. A wonderful friendship develops between the oblivious young knight and the baby dragon but what will they do when they discover they are sworn enemies and destined to do battle?

Benji Davies goes into creative overdrive with his bold, colourful and striking illustrations, capturing the nuances and rhythms of Woollard’s adorable story which speaks loudly to youngsters about the value of kindness, friendship and celebrating our differences.

Another classic from a top team…

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

It’s a mad, mad, mad world … particularly when inventive genius Frank Cottrell Boyce is our guide to the galaxy!

Storyteller extraordinaire, wordsmith, scriptwriter and one of the brains behind the memorable opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics, Boyce is back to blow our minds in a funny, moving and space-travelling story that has all the hallmarks of a classic family favourite.

Packed with fascinating space facts, out-of-this-world adventures, madcap humour, crazy antics and an irresistible cast of unforgettable characters, Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth has a gravitational pull for ‘kids’ of every age and generation.

But this eclectic, offbeat story is about so much more than laugh-out-loud ideas and comic capers; Boyce also tells us about the power of the imagination, friendship, belonging and the impact of dementia on families.

The Blythes are a big, warm, rambunctious family who live on a small farm in rural Scotland and sometimes foster children. Now Prez Mellows has come to live with them because his grandad ‘had to be taken away.’ Although he seems cheerful and helpful, Prez never says a word.

Then one day Prez answers the door to someone claiming to be his relative. This small, loud stranger carries a backpack, wears a kilt, walks with a swagger and goes by the name of Sputnik. As Prez dithers on the doorstep, Sputnik strolls right past him and introduces himself to everyone in the household. Prez is amazed at the response. The family pat Sputnik on the head, call him a good boy and drop food into his mouth. It seems they all think Sputnik is a dog. It’s only Prez who thinks otherwise.

But Prez soon finds himself having to defend the family from the chaos and danger unleashed by Sputnik as household items come to life. A TV remote fast-forwards people and a toy lightsabre entertains guests at a children’s party… until one of them is nearly decapitated by it. It looks like Prez is going to have to use his voice to explain himself.

Meanwhile, Sputnik is writing a guidebook called Ten Things Worth Doing on Earth and he takes Prez on a thrilling journey to discover those ten things. Each adventure seems to take Prez nearer to the heart of the family he is being fostered by, but they also take him closer to the day that he is due to leave them forever…

Steven Lenton’s glorious illustrations add extra warmth and vivacity to a simply brilliant story that ensures Boyce remains firmly at the top of the pantheon of gifted, contemporary children’s authors.

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)

Age 10 plus:

Girls Can Vlog Lucy Locket: Online Disaster by Emma Moss

Picture this… a fun, modern story about the online world of vlogging!

Video blogs – or vlogs as they are known to addicts – are all the rage among the new generation of savvy youngsters, so what better than a new series just made for aspiring YouTubers.

Emma Moss, herself a digital devotee, has created a beautifully insightful and entertaining four-book fiction series which features the online life of four very different girls. Each entertaining story explores family life, young friendships, making the most of your creativity and being true to yourself.

It’s bad enough having to move house, school and country all at the same time, without making a fool of yourself on the first day of term. But that’s just what Lucy has done, and one of her classmates has videoed the whole thing and uploaded it on to YouTube! Lucy is s so stressed that her stammer has become worse than ever. So when a friend encourages her to create her own videos, she thinks it’s a terrible idea… surely she has embarrassed herself enough for one lifetime. But when Lucy finally gives vlogging a try, she is amazed to find that people actually want to watch and listen to her…

With tips for making your own vlogs, an inspirational and heartwarming story and plenty of giggles and gossip, this is pitch-perfect fiction for the new digital generation.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)